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Putnam County elementary school chosen for national art workshop

NITRO, W.Va. -- A Putnam County elementary school was one of only two schools in the nation chosen to participate in a traveling art workshop that encourages creativity in students.

Rock Branch Elementary School's fourth-grade classes worked one-on-one with California artist Jim Sarno this week. He's the art director for student projects at CTB/McGraw-Hill, a leading publisher of education resources.

Each year, CTB/McGraw-Hill chooses two schools in the country to give back to their clients through the promotion of arts in education, Sarno said.

"I've worked for 19 years on this project, and I've never seen a group of kids more involved and more connected," he said. "These were the most excited kids I've worked with in all these years."

That's because the students at Rock Branch don't get to dedicate time in their school day to the arts very often, said fourth-grade teacher, Keisha Runion.

"Unfortunately, we don't have art teachers in our school. I know the kids are elated to be a part of this," she said. "It's fun for teachers, too, because we get to see the types of talents our kids have that we don't usually see on a daily basis."

A study released last week by the state Department of Education linked students' participation in arts courses to higher WESTEST 2 and ACT preparatory scores.

"We try to incorporate the arts in our lessons when we can, but I feel very limited without an art background. Now, we've been able to watch Jim's lessons and will be able to take that and repeat it for years to come," Runion said. "The great thing about art is even though it's valued by some more than others, there are no mistakes, just different ways of doing things."

Sarno, who has helped design Disney characters and create costumes for Sesame Street Live, led sessions at Rock Branch on color development and shape dimensions.

On Thursday, he helped students create a quilt that's inspired by West Virginia and represents aspects of the state.

"The kids get so excited about art, but they don't realize how much they're learning while they're doing it. We've been calculating dimensions of shapes, and the next thing you know we're fully into math, and they don't realize it," he said. "It's great to see them become so involved in something and not realize how much they really are learning."

Fourth-grade student Hannah Runions said her favorite part was designing cardinals -- the state's bird. She said she is going to do more arts and crafts outside of school.

"It's fun because we did a lot of different things. We weren't just stuck on one thing," she said. "[Sarno] was very nice, and I would like to do this at my house a lot more."

The students' artwork will show in a gallery in the next few months.

"The kids are mostly excited about having a gallery showing off their work. They don't get to do this very often, and it's nice that we're able to bring such positive attention to what they've created," Runion said.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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